Lenawee Christian Builds on Historic Win

October 12, 2018

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ADRIAN – Adrian Lenawee Christian gave a whole new meaning to Sweet 16 last week.

The Cougars and their roster of 16 strong won their biggest game in program history Friday, beating the No. 1 team in last week’s Associated Press Division 8 poll – Pittsford – to clinch a playoff berth and share of the Southern Central Athletic Association title.

It was the first time Lenawee Christian won a conference title and the first time the Cougars have qualified for the playoffs in back-to-back years.

“It was a big night,” Lenawee Christian head coach Bill Wilharms said. “It was senior night, parent’s night and our last (regular-season) home game. I’m just so excited for the kids. They’ve worked so hard. There were only 16 of them Friday, but they came to play.”

Lenawee Christian never trailed, although the game was tied briefly in the third quarter. The Cougars put up more than 400 yards of total offense against previously unbeaten Pittsford and a defense that had recorded two shutouts and allowed just five touchdowns all season.

Adam Baker, the Cougars’ starting quarterback, was sensational, throwing for 317 yards and two touchdowns, rushing for the game’s opening touchdown and picking up a team-best 70 yards on the ground. What was even more impressive, Wilharms said, was his junior signal-caller’s calling of the plays at the line of scrimmage.

“There were a couple of times where the play would happen, and I’d think to myself, ‘Okay, that was a good play. I don’t know what it was or where it came from, but, hey, it worked.’”

Baker said there were times when he got to the line of scrimmage and saw something different from the defense that warranted an audible.

“When I got to the line of scrimmage, if I saw something, I would just motion to my receivers or tell my line what to do,” Baker said. “I would signal something and change the play.”

It’s a credit to Wilharms and his staff that an experienced quarterback like Baker can make those adjustments on the fly.

“I think Coach has a lot of trust in our team to recognize the things that are happening out on the field,” Baker said. “He trusts us.”

Wilharms said Baker studies film and knows what he is doing.

“We’ve got a lot of things built into our run-pass option offense,” he said. “There are a lot of wrinkles. Adam does a great job of reading the defense. He made some fabulous reads. He went to his second or third option several times. It shows that he is a third-year quarterback.”

On the season, Baker has completed 95 of his 150 passing attempts for 1,289 yards and 17 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 391 yards. One of his rushing attempts in particular ignited the LCS players and fans Friday night.

“We ran a sweep and Baker lowered his shoulder and got a few extra yards,” Wilharms said. “Plays like that are big for a football team.”

Lenawee Christians runs the spread offense with multiple looks and a deep crew of receivers. In the Pittsford game alone, Baker connected with seven receivers. Some teams go a full season without seven different players catching a pass.

“We’re trying to do some different things out of the spread,” Wilharms said. “As long as our line can give Baker time in the pocket, we can really sling it.”

The line that Baker operated behind Friday did a great job, especially considering senior Jack Leisenring, the team’s biggest player, was out with an injury.

“We have a sophomore that is about 210 and one of our freshman lineman is about 145,” Wilharms said. “The younger kids have really stepped up on the line. We try to do things to take advantage of their quickness because they don’t have a lot of size. Our kids came to play against Pittsford, who is a tough, physical team. They knew they were going to get hit, but they took it on.”

The SCAA has just four teams – Pittsford, Climax-Scotts, Athens and LCS. Climax-Scotts has committed to 8-player football next year while LCS was undecided until this month, when it informed the other SCAA schools it will maintain an 11-player team in 2019. The middle school and junior varsity Cougars already play 8-player, but Wilharms said he believes the numbers will support an 11-player team at least one more season.

“We only have three seniors and a big junior class,” he said. “If we keep who we have, we should be okay. Scheduling might be tough. We will probably have to hit the road to find teams.”

But no one is thinking about next year yet. Lenawee Christian is among the top-five ranked teams in Division 8, and the Cougars could land the first home playoff game in school history. They will travel tonight to play at Blanchard Montabella, and the Oct. 19 game against Detroit Universal Academy will go into the books as a forfeit win. The Cougars have never won a playoff game.

Baker said the team got excited after its win Friday, but he and his teammates know they still have work to do.

“I mean, sure we beat the No. 1-ranked team in the state, but there is always room for improvement,” he said. “You can always get better. That’s what we did when we went back to practice on Monday, just worked and worked to try and get better for this week.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Lenawee Christian quarterback Adam Baker follows his blocker during last week’s win over Pittsford. (Middle) Cougars coach Bill Wilharms checks out his play chart. (Photos by Stacy Kline.)

Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

May 26, 2023

Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.

The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).

Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.

See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:

8-Player Football

Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.

On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.

A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.

Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.

Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.

Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.

Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).

Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.

Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.

Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.

PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)